Universal Design is a design philosophy that aims to deliver products, services, facilities, spaces and systems which can be used by everyone. In the context of parks, universal design promotes safe, accessible, barrier-free play and recreation opportunities for people of all ages and abilities.
Designing inclusive parks
Auckland Council is committed to providing facilities and public spaces which are inclusive and welcoming to all visitors, no matter their age or ability. Making our parks and recreation facilities accessible for disabled people will improve the quality of park experiences for everyone. This article introduces the concept of universal design, in order to inspire and assist park designers, project managers and operational staff in delivering universally accessible parks.
Why is it important?
At some point in our lives, through accident, illness or old age, every one of us will experience disability or impairment.
Universally designed built environments are essential to ensuring equity and a high quality of life for everyone. Accessible places provide easy access to facilities for all people, from those with limited strength, stamina or vision impairment, to persons recovering from an accident or using a wheelchair or pram.
Right now, one in five Aucklanders has a disability or impairment, and this figure will likely grow as our population ages over time. By 2050, 25% of our residents will be over 65, and 50% of them will have a disability. The most common impairment types for adults are physical and sensory disabilities. In order to deliver the objectives of the Auckland Plan and enable everyone to fully participate in and contribute to society, we must become a fair, inclusive, accessible and well-connected city. That is, a city built with universal accessibility as the objective.
Disabled people and older adults can be excluded from participating in society, because they face barriers such as access to: information, transport, and facilities. They avoid places where they feel unsafe and where the amenities are difficult to use, which reduces their ability to participate in public life. To combat this, a strong commitment to universal design is needed to ensure our parks and public places make everyone feel welcome.
Access is not only a basic human right; it is an important part of ensuring a high quality of life. The standards for universal design set out by the New Zealand Building Code are based on minimum requirements, and don't meet everyone's needs. If everyone is to fully participate in daily activities we must go beyond the minimum requirements, we must aim to implement best practice design. In doing so, we can create quality park and open space environments that are useable, safe and enjoyable for all.
Is it mandatory?
Universal design is supported by Auckland's Regional 'No Exceptions' Declaration which formalised the mandate to provide access, services and support to enable people with disabilities to participate in physical activity, sport and recreation. This regional approach brought all 8 legacy Councils to the same level, creating a policy consistency that enabled disability advisors and coordinators across the region the ability to more easily influence change.
The Manukau Tennis Dome is fully accessible for wheelchairs, allowing those with physical disabilities to enjoy the facilities.
This declaration is still in effect and must be adhered to in any new park design. To achieve this, it's important to commission an accredited barrier free auditor to undertake a barrier free audit of either existing facilities and/or plans for new facilities (e.g. when redeveloping a park or section of the park that has public access, or when developing a new park or facility on a park that will have public access).
The accessible journey
Universal Design relies on the three fundamental elements of an accessible route – approachability, accessibility and usability. Together they make up the 'accessible journey.' If one element is missing, the accessible journey fails,
and a park is inaccessible. Some areas where the journey typically fails include: the street boundary, or car park, ramps or steps, lack of signage, and slippery/uneven surfaces.
What we aim to deliver:
- Inclusiveness – Designs should be inclusive. Designs should be easy to understand, regardless of the user's age, experience, ability or mental aptitude. Aim to eliminate complexity and accommodate a wide range of ages and abilities.
- Diversity - We view disability as one aspect of diversity. Every aspect of operations and facility design needs to accommodate differences in function and ability.
- Flexibility – Designs should accommodate a wide range of preferences and abilities. They should provide choice and be adaptable to the user's unique pace and needs
- Equity and dignity – Provide the same means of use for all users, identical wherever possible; equivalent when not. Avoid segregation. Make the design appealing to all users.
- Comfort – Designs are able to be used efficiently and comfortably with minimum fatigue and low physical effort. Make reaching all components comfortable for both seated and standing users. Provide adequate space for use of assistive devices.
- Safety – Designs minimize hazards and opportunities for accidents and errors. Designs provide warnings or incorporate fail safe features, where appropriate.
How we will deliver:
- Be proactive - Accessibility often is adopted only after a complaint, or other adverse event. We aim to proactively avoid these events by building in universal design from the outset.
- Act responsibly – Everyone is responsible and accountable for implementing universal design in park design projects.
- Collaborate – Work with people with a range of impairments (e.g. physically disabled, hearing impaired, blind, intellectually disabled, older people, etc.) to get their perspective and ensure that you fully understand their use, experience, and satisfy their needs.
- Seek expertise - At times, external resources (e.g. consultants or contractors) may be needed to provide best practice recommendations about universal design.
- Demonstrate commitment and leadership - We strive to achieve our universal design goals and insist that those who report to us take them seriously as well.